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Johnny Hodges

Johnny Hodges in concert, Feb. 6, 1965
Background information
Birth name John Cornelius Hodges
Born July 25, 1906(1906-07-25)
Origin Cambridge, Massachusetts
Died May 11, 1970 (aged 63)
Genres Swing
Mainstream jazz
Occupations Saxophonist
Clarinetist
Instruments Alto saxophone
Soprano saxophone
Clarinet
Associated acts Sidney Bechet
Lucky Roberts
Chick Webb
Notable instruments
Selmer Mark 6

John Cornelius "Johnny" Hodges (July 25, 1906 – May 11, 1970) was an American alto saxophonist best known for leading Duke Ellington's saxophone section for 38 years.[1]

Hodges started playing with Lloyd Scott, Sidney Bechet, Lucky Roberts and Chick Webb. When Ellington wanted to expand his band in 1928, Ellington's clarinet player Barney Bigard recommended Hodges, who was featured on both alto and soprano sax. His playing became one of the identifying voices of the Ellington orchestra. Hodges left the Duke to lead his own band (1951-1955), but returned to the large ensemble shortly before Ellington's triumphant return to prominence--the orchestra's performance at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival.

Biography

Hodges was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He was mostly self-taught, although he did take lessons on soprano sax with Bechet. He was one of the prominent Ellington Band members who featured in Benny Goodman's legendary 1938 Carnegie Hall concert. Goodman described Hodges as "the greatest man on alto sax I ever heard." Charlie Parker called him "the Lily Pons of his instrument."

Ellington's practice of writing tunes specifically for members of his orchestra resulted in the Hodges specialties, "Confab with Rab", "Jeep's Blues", "Sultry Sunset", and "Hodge Podge". Other songs recorded by the Ellington Orchestra which prominently feature Hodges' smooth alto-saxophone are "Magenta Haze", "Prelude to a Kiss", "Haupe" (from Anatomy of a Murder) -- note also the "seductive" and hip-swaying “Flirtibird,” featuring the "irresistibly salacious tremor" by Hodges,[2] "The Star-Crossed Lovers" from Ellington's Such Sweet Thunder suite, "I Got It Bad (And That Ain't Good)", "Blood Count" and "Passion Flower".

Generations of saxophonists turn to 1963 recording The Great Paris Concert, in which Hodges' lyrical poise is captured well, particularly on "On the Sunny Side of the Street".

He had a pure tone and economy of melody on both the blues and ballads that won him admiration from musicians of all eras and styles, from Ben Webster to John Coltrane, both of whom played with him when he had his own orchestra in the 1950s, to Lawrence Welk, who featured him in an album of standards. His highly individualistic playing style, which featured the use of a wide vibrato and much sliding between slurred notes, was frequently imitated. As evidenced by the Ellington compositions named after him, he earned the nicknames Rabbit, according to Johnny Griffin because "he looked like a rabbit, no expression on his face while he's playing all this beautiful music."[3] and Jeep (for his apparent speed as a runner).

Hodges' last performances were at the Imperial Room in Toronto, less than a week before his death from a heart attack. His last recordings are featured on The New Orleans Suite, incomplete on his death.

In Ellington's eulogy of Hodges he said: "Never the world's most highly animated showman or greatest stage personality, but a tone so beautiful it sometimes brought tears to the eyes - this was Johnny Hodges. This is Johnny Hodges."

Discography

References








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